Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Ain't that the age a girl gets really flirty?": Strictly Come Dancing, Week 4

So much for my tipping - Jessie Wallace is gone. She was bottom of the scoreboard for a second time, but this time the public couldn't/wouldn't save her, and she was deposited in the dance-off with Heather Small, who was third from bottom. Jodie Kidd was second from bottom on the judges' scores, but was saved by the public vote.

Ahead of these was Christine Bleakley, on 26 points, then Lisa Snowdon (32) and Rachel Stevens (33). However, on top of things for the second time was Cherie Lunghi - her rumba not only showed she could do the business with the Latin dances, it also garnered her the highest score of the series, a whopping 35 points. The oldest woman in the field has, rather surprisingly, found herself right at the front of the pack.

Three major themes emerged this week:

1) POSTURE - a word I've learned to dread from an early age, primarily due to mine being as crap as it is. This week, much of the judges' criticism was to do with contestants' posture. Jessie's bosom was too close to her partner, thus apparently throwing the rest of her posture out. Heather's hands were gripping too much. Christine's posture was apparently dodgy in ways I can't remember, and I'm fairly sure the same was possibly true of Jodie; given that the judges basically slavered over the other three, it seems more than likely.

Unfortunately for me, posture and frame are things I'm finding rather tricky to pick up on. For example - watching Jessie's dance, it was fairly clear that her feet were rather struggling to keep up with those of her partner, Darren Bennett. The pair weren't really in tandem - it felt as though he was having to pull her through the routine while she struggled to keep up. The posture thing wasn't quite as evident. Re-watching Heather's routine, things become a bit clearer - she seems stiff as a board, almost rigid from the knees up, again being led through by her partner. Except now I'm looking at the summary on the official site and no, apparently it's her feet that are the problem. Jodie's problem, apparently, was lack of emotion more than lack of posture - according to the judges, she was just transitioning between spots all the time. Going off a second watching, it's easier to see this - something about her seems a bit cold, slightly disengaged and, well, posey - but the need for a second watching disconcerts me a little at my inability to pick up on these things just by seeing them on telly. Still, by the time we get to the final I will doubtless be massively expert on this sort of thing. And John Sergeant will be the world's leading performer of the cha cha cha.

2) PERVS - I am becoming increasingly thankful that the interviews are shot solely from the waist up, particularly when they involve Vincent Simone and Ian Waite. Vincent brings to mind the opening scene of Gregory's Girl when he's being asked for his opinions on his partner, Rachel. He suddenly seems to metamorphose into a nervous, giggling 15-year-old boy. Ian's gone a bit further - both his routines with Jodie so far have wound up with him almost kissing her. The opening of their dance this week involved her running her hand slowly up his body and over his face while he channelled the video for Adam Rickitt's 1999 smash hit "I Breathe Again". You worry for the boy.

3) PICTURE, THE BIGGER - last week, the hints of competition were being sown among the men with Official Rocktimists Candidate Tom "Our Tom" Chambers openly declaring his rivalry with Austin Healey. The judges' comments so far have been all too keen to bear this out, with all of them picking out the pair as being the clear leaders during the men's group dance this week.

The same hints manifested themselves among the women this week, but in a markedly different manner - none of the girls would be so gauche as to declare their intentions of victory (schoolboy error by Our Tom there), but all of them seemed intent on not leaving the competition. They are not, it would appear, competing with each other so much as with themselves. With Gillian Taylforth gone from the field, the walls suddenly got a lot closer, and new sides to our competitors emerged. Heather adopted a facial expression not entirely dissimilar to Helen of Troy when faced with the judges' assertions that her hand was clinging. When Christine Bleakley's name was the last to be read out on the list of dancers that had made it through to next week, her demeanour was akin to that of someone who had just been revived through CPR. Rachel Stevens cried a bit in rehearsals, too, though I can't really remember why.

The most telling reaction, however, was that of dear departed Jessie, who was full of optimism in rehearsals, but struggled to keep it together as the judges dissected her posture and footwork, before meeting Tess backstage, where she couldn't hang on any longer and was lost in her tears, castigating herself for messing up and letting Darren down. Darren was chivalrous to a fault in his reassurances; Tess seemed to be adopting the tone of a newsreader announcing a pile-up on the M1. For the rest of the weekend's shows, Jessie's expression was that of a woman resigned to, yet still devastated by, her fate. The public saved her previously, but she didn't for one second imagine they would again, and she was right. Still, she picked herself up, clapped all the way through Heather and Brian Fortuna's performance in the dance-off, and then did her best to try and make amends with her own reprisal; it wasn't enough.

It is in the female contestants' anxieties this weekend that a unique trait about SCD is displayed: it actually is the taking part that counts, and for most of the contestants the prize is surviving for another week, being allowed one more dance. Winning the competition doesn't necessarily bring massive rewards - more or less everyone that has won has basically gone back to their day jobs, albeit with reputations renewed or enhanced somewhat (or, in the case of Alesha Dixon, with a newly salvaged career).

Next week sees the end of the gender divide - all 12 couples will compete against each other, performing either the samba or the American smooth (basically a spot of the ol' Fred & Ginger). The nine-time world Latin dance champions did their own samba on the Sunday show, and it was terrifying in its speed and precision, full of spins, twists, turns and physics-defying hip gyrations. John Sergeant's doing that next week, and he might well survive it.

Of the rest: Andrew Castle has the air of a dead man walking at present, and looks to be taking up the dreaded spot of 'most expendable'. However, having been saved by ver public last time, he might dodge the bullet once more, in which case your bottom two seems almost certain to consist of Heather and Mark Foster, with the swimmer's struggle to be interesting possibly saving him on the judges' cards. Don Warrington will be under pressure to try and prove his tango wasn't a one-off; Jodie's nerves will probably be shot to pieces after relying on the public to save her this week; Brendan Cole will probably be all fiery and shit about something or other; and up the business end, Austin and Our Tom will get to meet Cherie. Something tells me they'd better get worried - her rumba really was the best dance of the competition thus far, with a kind of sensuality and sexuality that was, frankly, off the chart, far beyond any kind of emotional punch that Austin or Our Tom have delivered.

There's also the fact that Rachel and Vincent have developed a pretty undeniable synchronicity, and the bar seems to keep being raised. This week was the most intriguing week so far - next week should be unmissable.

Albeit that the house band's rendition of 'Help!' to accompany Jessie's routine was possibly their worst effort of the series so far. If you sound like you're being backed by a primary school nativity play on tambourine, it's probably not a great omen.

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